You're pregnant, don't let yourself go

When we announced our first pregnancy, after “Congratulations”, the first thing my dad said to me was “Don’t let yourself go”. I brushed off the comment: I would be fine.

But while I hoped for one of those magical pregnancies where your belly is the only thing affected by the weight gain, by week 6 of the pregnancy I became disconcerted that every part of my body – even my hair – seemed to be pregnant. I quickly realised weight would be a constant issue for me: not so much the amount of weight I gained – I was reassured this was healthy. The issue was in the way I felt about my body and its ever-increasing size.

It became apparent that the effort of trying to hold on to my pre-pregnancy self would be more of a challenge than the birth itself. In the first trimester, I couldn’t even enter the kitchen without dry retching. Subsequently, anything that would go in my mouth without immediately coming out again was considered a worthy item on my food pyramid.

My attitude became one of resignation: the whole child-rearing thing would be better for everyone if I relaxed on food front, and by consequence, the body front. The baby could have a party, do his thing, and I would clean up the mess afterwards.

This all sounds very neat and tidy. Neat and tidy, it was not. I still wrestled with my appetite, weight gain and self-image just as I always had. I avoided mirrors and being in photographs, sang along to the hymnbook of elasticized clothing and tried not to socialize with new people. If I did meet someone, I would always have on the tip of my tongue, “I’m not usually this fat …” The result: we have a billion photos of our son as a baby, but only a handful of the woman behind the camera. And she is wearing the same stretchy, stripy top in every one of them.

When I was in labour with First Born, I still didn’t want to let go. All I could think about was being split into two. My insides would become my outsides, and I would be forever broken. If I let myself go, I would be gone for good.


Then something really surprising happened. I didn’t break. And then I went back to do it again. Twice.

After three pregnancies in four years, my body is now taking a well-earned hiatus from baby making. It’s time to assess the damage of our half-decade long party. Everything is a little looser. My boobs are remarkably, surprisingly, the smallest they have been since I was 13: party balloons that have lost their fullness. I am also discovering the things that have been broken and hidden under the rug: varicose veins are emerging: Left Boob is bigger than Right Boob. I have one rib that juts out on the right side after a breech pregnancy. I also have one random chin hair which is so remarkable, I almost want to name it and keep it as a pet.

My body has certainly changed, but so has my mind. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see the faults I used to see. I see a woman at peace. She is a little tired, stretched, scarred, wonky: she is certainly no beauty queen. But she is soft. Her skin is soft, soft to little boy hands as she buckles them into their car seats. She is strong: strong enough to push a double pram full of kids and groceries up the hill from the shops.

I have not felt more at peace with my body since I was a child. I feel like the woman I was made to become. I don’t know that I would have found her if I didn’t let myself go.

These are tummies of women who have had babies. Beautiful. Every one of them

Karen Charlton believes there is only one thing as thrilling as having a baby, and that is writing. She is mum to three boys, she blogs at The Rhythm Method.

Have you come to peace with your body? How did you get there?